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When Donald Trump launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last summer, Karen Peterson of Battle Creek liked the New York billionaire.

The 59-year-old retired nurse welcomed what Trump had to say about fixing the economy, clamping down on illegal immigration and chastising President Barack Obama’s leadership.

“But then he started insulting people,” Peterson said. “I don’t like people who seem to revel in insulting other people. I’m not that kind of person. ... And I don’t think we need a president who bullies his way into getting what he wants.”

Although Trump holds a 10-percentage-point lead over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in a Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll of likely Michigan Republican presidential primary voters, women are much less enthused than men about the bombastic New York billionaire with less than three weeks until the March 8 election.

Among men, Trump has a 14-point advantage over Cruz. But among women, his lead falls to a 5-percentage-point edge over Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

About 48 percent of female voters hold an unfavorable view of the businessman-turned-reality TV star — the highest negative mark among the six Republican presidential candidates competing in Michigan’s March 8 primary. About 35 percent of the 294 female voters surveyed had a favorable view of him.

Trump’s unfavorable rating among women was more than 16 percent points higher than his next two competitors — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Cruz. The statewide poll was conducted before Bush dropped out of the race Saturday following a fourth place finish in the South Carolina primary.

GOP strategist Katie Packer, who is a partner in a Virginia political consulting firm that specializes in messaging to women, said multiple public opinion polls across the country have shown Trump has “incredibly high” negative ratings from female voters.

“It’s not just that he has said incredibly misogynistic things that are very off-putting for women. It’s his tone,” said Packer, who is running the anti-Trump super political action committee Our Principles. “There’s this sort of recklessness to Trump that’s a little bit scary to women.”

Patricia Steffes, 62, of West Bloomfield said she’s voting for John Kasich because she believes the Ohio governor has a calmer demeanor than Trump.

“I think he’s a bully by all definitions,” Steffes said of Trump. “Sitting behind the presidential desk in the Oval Office, I want somebody who is quiet and controlled in his decision-making, or her decision-making.”

Women holding back

Trump captured 25 percent of the 600 likely Michigan Republican primary voters surveyed, followed by 15 percent for Cruz, Rubio at 12 percent and 10.5 percent support for Kasich. Nearly 21 percent of those polled said they were undecided, while another 36 percent who backed a candidate said they could still change their minds.

The Feb. 14-16 poll of 600 voters had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. About 70 percent of those surveyed said they routinely vote for Republicans, while 29 percent said they are independent and about 1 percent said they vote Democratic.

Some political analysts say Trump’s polarizing candidacy is ripe for attracting Democrats to cross over into the Republican primary. White Lake Township resident Kathryn Michalik, 74, said she has done so.

The self-described liberal Democrat said Friday she has already voted absentee for Bush because “he’s the least offensive.” She finds Trump to have a “lack of consideration for blacks, Hispanics and for women.”

Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents, was polling last in Detroit News/WDIV poll with just 5 percent of support in Michigan before ending his bid for the presidency Saturday.

About 28 percent of women voters surveyed said they remain undecided and their votes could shape the outcome of the primary next month, pollster Richard Czuba said.

“Women are really holding back in this race right now,” said Czuba, president of the Glengariff Group Inc. polling firm. “They’re not really sure where to go and who to support.”

Czuba said the race remains fluid, but Trump’s lead in a splintered six-man primary may help him win the most delegates in Michigan.

‘We need a drastic change’

One undecided female voter surveyed in The Detroit News/WDIV poll said she’s now leaning toward Trump after Pope Francis on Thursday said Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border is “not Christian.”

“I don’t think the pope has any right to tell us that we shouldn’t be building a wall and that you’re not Christian if we build a wall,” said Sharon Farin, 55, of Madison Heights. “There’s a lot of things the Bible says and one of them is: Do not judge.”

Trump initially called the pope’s comments “disgraceful” and said no religious leader “should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Farin said the Trump-Pope confrontation began to solidify her support for the businessman.

“There’s things I don’t like that Donald Trump says, but I think we need a drastic change given the direction things are headed,” she said.

But some voters have questions about Trump’s moral character since he is on his third marriage and his first marriage ended after a long-running affair with a woman who became his second wife.

“He doesn’t behave like I would think a Christian would,” said Priscilla Boot, a 46-year-old mother of nine from Dorr in Allegan County. “I’m not judging his salvation. But it doesn’t seem like he holds the same values as I do living them out.”

Boot said she’s supporting retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — who polled at 9 percent in the Michigan survey — in part because Carson presents himself as a humble and kind Christian.

“(Trump) just seems so arrogant that he’s just fine by himself,” Boot said. “I think we need to be humble before other people. ... Even how he talks, he’s unkind in a lot of his speeches.”

Other female voters said what they find appealing is Trump’s outsider status and ability to largely finance his campaign with his own money.

“If his tone is maybe what other people might consider a little rough, I think that’s what it might take,” said Cynthia Odea, 64, of Flint. “His tone doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Retiree Karol Hudson, 76, Westland said she’s supporting Trump because his abrasive approach has disrupted the race to succeed Obama in the White House.

“I don’t want another Bush in there,” Hudson said. “And I’m terrified of Ted Cruz. He reminds me of another Joe McCarthy.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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